The Role of Military in the Political Process of Brazil in Latin America

The military coup of 1964-described by the armed forces as a ‘revolution’-had some kind of a Salvationist mission to restore law and order and economic growth pattern which evidently the weakling civilian populist regimes had failed since the days of Vargas.

The military coup was brought about by two groups: the so- called ‘hard-liners’ and the ‘moderates’. Though General Humberto Castelo Branco, a ‘moderate’, had become the president, it was the more authoritarian elements that gradually came to dominate, and making the regime adopts some clearly hard-line policies.

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Over the next years after the coup, the regime policies evolved in a somewhat systematic fashion. Foremost of its characteristics, however, was the nature of corporatist control the state came to Establish over all the vital sectors of society. It was also a highly centralised federal government controlled by the military that was dominating the weak provincial governments.

Military officers were appointed to all influential and leading roles in the state machinery and public enterprises. A large and well-paid civilian technocracy was put in charge of economic policy making and implementation with no interference from the military. The regime took steps to establish the dominance of business interests over rest of the societal interests.

While the regime evolved a system of presidential succession from within the junta, it maintained usual political institutions including the federal congress and congressional elections to gain both legitimacy and the support of the select civilian elements.

Many civilian organisations were debarred, disbanded or simply repressed thus maintaining tight regime control of the political process.

The political system was dominated from above, allowing for no genuine representation from grass-roots levels by relying on certain interests such as the business community. Such interests were vertically linked with the government machinery.

As for the urban and rural labour unions, these were mostly disbanded often by employing state coercion. In 1969, federal congress and the judicial branch were both closed down making the military president and the ruling junta exercise unrestricted powers. Civil liberties and fundamental rights of the citizens were suspended and a strong wave of repression had ensued.

A powerful control mechanism in the form of internal security agencies had emerged. This followed tighter governmental control over the labour unions and their subordination to the ministry of labour. At first, political parties, being considered nuisance, were banned.

Later, realising the need to have a ‘popular’ image, the regime in an act of high corporatism floated two political parties-the ‘official’ pro-government National Renovating Alliance (ARENA) and the ‘official’ opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB).

Authoritarian corporatism was justified in the name of economic growth. In its vision, the military was supported by a bureaucracy, composed of technocrats, which emphasised on the need and efficacy of ‘technocratic’ and not ‘political’ solutions to the economic and social challenges.

The technocratic view had emphasised upon the need to introduce advanced technology and modern methods of management to run the society. The technocratic solutions admittedly could be introduced, not in democratic, but only in an authoritarian context.

As economic growth took off from 1968 onwards, the alliance between military and technocracy became stronger, and made many analysts argue that modernisation including rapid economic growth is compatible with authoritarianism.

Economic growth for about ten years was stupendous making it a ‘Brazilian miracle’. By mid-1970s, Brazil had become the tenth largest economy, having the thirteenth largest industrial sector. The economic transformation was deep and far-reaching and soon had its social and political fall-outs.

One discernible effect was the social cost of rapid economic growth under conditions of authoritarianism. Wealth had become even more concentrated in fewer hands. Some redistribution towards urban salaried sectors took place but the share in national wealth of the lower 50 per cent of the population actually fell.

Another discernible aspect was the monetary and fiscal policies of the government. The stabilisation programme introduced in 1964 had meant government control over wages especially among the lower paid.

With the real value of minimum wage falling and no recourse left in terms of labour rights, a mass of cheap and disciplined labour was made available to the multinationals and Brazilian enterprises.

With all protections withdrawn, rural workers suffered even more at the hands of landowners; and this drove great number of unskilled rural labourers to the cities in search of work. While wages were controlled and their real value reduced, prices of food and other essentials rose, with the redistributive consequences of a transfer of wealth from the working class to the middle class.

By mid-1970s when the ‘Brazilian miracle’ was at its peak, the proportion of the indigent and the poor, the unskilled and the rural to-urban migrant was correspondingly also at its peak. The promised ‘trickle down’ never took effect. Yet, another discernible change was in the area of the rise of multinationals and large Brazilian firms.

Small and inefficient Brazilian firms were put out by governmental policies. It was the multinationals in the automobile, electronic household goods, plastics, tyre and rubber, and pharmaceutical sectors that dominated the dynamic sector and had brought about the ‘miracle’.

The prosperous middle class provided a market for these goods and the personnel to manage new industries and firms. Exports also increased during the boom years with coffee replaced by soya as the main agricultural export and the export basket becoming varied with manufactured goods, processed goods and minerals.

The economic growth that took place was prompted not simply by the multinationals. State intervention was pervasive and its ownership expanded.

Some 200 new public sector enterprises were established between 1966 and 1975 with many of them really mega firms.

The goal of the modernising military regime was eventually to make Brazilian national bourgeoisie strong and independent, capable of competing at the international level. In the tripod of domestic private business, multinationals and state, the state was the lynchpin of growth but the domestic private business was the intended principal beneficiary of all modernisation.

Brazilian state, under the military authoritarian rule, had gained considerable autonomy visa-vis all the socio-economic classes and forces. It was able to negotiate successfully with foreign capital, offering the latter the most conducive economic and political environment for investments.

It was the state ability to invest and manipulate investment in various sectors that gave it preeminence over both domestic business and foreign capital and thus shape the nature of capitalism in Brazil.

The flaw in the development strategy was however massive external borrowings, which created towards the end of the 1970s, severe debt obligations for the state. The ‘Brazilian miracle’ slowed down and came to a halt as international prices of petroleum and other adverse international developments from the mid-1970s impinged adversely on the growth strategy.

A significant feature of bureaucratic authoritarian regime was its time-table for gradual ‘opening’ of the political process from the mid- 1970s. In a reorganisation of the party system, the regime allowed the formation of multiple parties.

When abertura (opening) began, electorate voted heavily for the opposition candidates in the elections of 1974. Other forms of popular opposition also began to get such as students’ strikes, industrial workers’ movements that led to the formation of the Brazilian Workers party, and church-inspired grass­roots movements.

Wage cuts and cuts in state expenditure on health and education had deteriorated the conditions of vast numbers but at the same time gave a fillip to the self-help and voluntary movements that were usually issue specific.

Towards the end of the military rule in 1984, the real issues were those of poverty and income inequalities. At the end of the military rule, one could argue that Brazil had achieved, notwithstanding sliding economic performance and deteriorating external situation.

When the second stage of the political ‘decompression’ began in 1979, it adversely affected societal forces had come into their own forcing the military regime to reschedule its time-table for political liberalisation.

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